In those days, I recall possessing a cassette tape (remember those?) made of a seminar conducted by a well known breeder / handler who had invited a local panel of successful breeder / exhibitors to discuss their methods and opinions. One such individual stated straight out, in front of God and everybody, “I have no idea what kind of ears my dogs produce naturally because I start them in tapes the minute they’re big enough for me to get a handle on, and they stay in tapes (except in the ring) until their show careers are over.” There we had it; a simple admission deemed shocking by many, courageous by some, and yet barely relevant by a few.
Times have certainly changed.
Today it is unlikely to find any Collie or Sheltie ear in any given show ring which has never known tape, glue, tungsten, twine, yarn, or even a surgeon’s knife. It is similarly unlikely to find any breeder /exhibitor who has any reservations about openly discussing their personal method of “fixing” ears. One judge, in fact, went so far as to say, “A dog with natural ears would be hard to win with today, because we’re all so used to looking at fixed ears, and they do look different.” It is of course true that show ring competition is the driving force behind all of this ear “fixing”, as even the breeder previously mentioned went on to state; “To be competitive in the show ring, my dogs have to have perfect ears and I can’t be worrying about an ear flying or some other problem…” So the question of whether we have lost the natural ear in the quest to create the best natural-looking ear begs asking.
Collies and Shelties are by far not the only breeds to have their ears “enhanced” for show purposes. A number of other breeds actually have more than half of the ear surgically sliced off in order to have the correct appearance desired in the ring. Those who opt not to do so are the ones who are typically looked down upon, who have a more difficult time finishing their entries, and who in some cases are not allowed to show them at all. In a few of these breeds, a legal ban on ear cropping in some foreign countries has actually resulted in breeders considering opening the registry to naturally erect eared breeds in an effort to produce the look previously brought about in their own breed by cropping. The natural look of their flop eared dogs is something they do not want under any circumstances.
The natural look of the Collie and Sheltie ear, on the other hand, is supposed to be desired. It is that of a tulip, or three quarters erect ear. The Collie Standard states: “On the alert they are drawn well up on the backskull and are carried about three-quarters erect, with about one-fourth of the ear tipping or breaking forward”. The Sheltie Standard states: “Ears small and flexible, placed high, carried three-fourths erect, with tips breaking forward”. Astute breeders once understood the desired size, shape, and thickness of ear required to naturally achieve such an ear. They also understood the breeding principles behind creating a skull that would carry ears with the correct placement or “set”.
So, why the disappearance of the truly natural ear? As one breeder stated, “Our breed is supposed to look one hundred percent natural in the show ring, and it takes a whole lot of work to get them to look that way!”